Glassed-in balcony, Barcelona

Glassed-in balcony, Barcelona

Given that historical buildings in Seattle are likely to be less than two hundred years old, it is not surprising that I was drawn to the charms of medieval and vintage Spain —  its narrow labyrinthine streets in the old quarters of its cities, the faded Moorish influences, the wrought-iron balconies . . .  But I was also very impressed with some of Spain’s avant-garde glimpses of fashion and architecture.

Fashion, shop window in Granada

Fashion, shop window in Granada

I was totally captivated by this metal spiral staircase that we saw inside La Caixa Forum in Madrid:

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And their bathrooms were pretty wonderful, too!

Apple-green restroom, La Caixa Forum, Madrid

Apple-green restroom, La Caixa Forum, Madrid

The Metropole Parasol at Plaza de Encarnacion in Seville is a fanciful urban installation with an elevated viewing platform.  I loved the lightness of its balsa-wood-like structure, its curviness, and imaginative shape.

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And in Barcelona, we spotted the Agbar Tower, that gherkin-shaped building designed by Jean Nouvel, as we were crossing a street.

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All of these wonderful expressions of modern style and design tell me that Spain is not living in the past, but is striding exuberantly into the future.

 

 

 

” . . . the Sagrada Familia is Barcelona as much as Sacre-Coeur is Paris and the Empire State Building is New York City.”
— Mary Ellen Jordan Haight and James J. Haight, Walks in Picasso’c Barcelona

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia

” . . . Antoni Gaudi’s phantasmagoric prayer in stone.”
— from Frommer’s Easy Guide to Barcelona and Madrid

The highlight of my time in Barcelona was seeing Gaudi’s great basilica, La Sagrada Familia.  I have been fortunate in my travels to have seen some of those special spiritual places designed by great artists:  the Matisse chapel in Vence, Mark Rothko’s chapel in Houston, Louise Nevelson’s Chapel of the Good Shepherd in St. Peter’s Church in New York City, and on this trip Goya’s Real Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida.  Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece is another of these unique marriages of art and spirituality.

When you travel in Europe, there seems to be a cathedral in every city or large town, and for me, these cathedral visits lose their appeal after a while.  They start blurring together.  The gold-plated trimmings, Biblical paintings and statues, and displays of wealth and power seem at odds with the way I see the universe.  They do not inspire awe so much as repel.  But Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia is not like that.  Its interior is awe-inspiring and your spirit seems to soar.  It feels uplifting and humble at the same time.  The space is clean and uncluttered compared to those Gothic cathedrals.  The lights, softly colored, evoke a spiritual space.  If you travel to Barcelona to do nothing but visit La Sagrada Familia, it would be worth it.

Exterior, La Sagrada Familia

Exterior, La Sagrada Familia

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The Nativity facade

The Nativity façade

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The angular sculptures on the Passion facade

The angular sculptures on the Passion façade

“The entire front was a kind of garden rising vertically from the pavement.  Vines climbed upward to provide niches in which statues of Biblical figures stood as if resting in some countryside grape arbor.  What in a traditional façade would have been a pillar, here became a tree in whose spreading branches perched stone birds.  On either side of the main entrance, at eye level, families of realistic chickens scratched, beautifully carved, and wherever human figures appeared, animal life appeared also, for it was obvious that Gaudi had loved nature; his definition of religion encompassed all that lived.”
— James Michner, Iberia

” . . . the spires were built in such a way that they resembled pretzel sticks studded with salt crystals, except that at the upper end they narrowed down to points of rock candy, brilliantly colored.  The spire was decorated with ceramic bits set in plaster and color was reflected everywhere. . . . and since many of the ceramic pieces were finished in gold, the spire seemed to be a finger of the sun.”
— James Michner, Iberia

Interior, La Sagrada Familia

Interior, La Sagrada Familia

“The dominant aspect of the whole concept for the cathedral was the emphasis on verticality, the linking of heaven to earth.”
— Mary Ellen Jordan Haight and James J. Haight, Walks in Picasso’s Barcelona

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“The straight line is the work of Man, but the curve is the work of God.”
— Antoni Gaudi

 

“Today, for most people, the Ramblas is Barcelona.”
—  Robert Hughes, Barcelona the Great Enchantress

The Ramblas, Barcelona

The Ramblas, Barcelona

“The humanity of the Rambla!  It’s an inscrutably human street!  So many stories come and go every day from these cafes, shops, and stairways!  The air is saturated with their human feet.”
— Josep Pla, The Gray Notebook, translated by Peter Bush

“The Ramblas is and always will be one of the great, seedy, absorbing theaters of Spain, or for that matter of Europe.”
—  Robert Hughes, Barcelona the Great Enchantress

Mercat de la Boqueria

Mercat de la Boqueria

My favorite part of strolling the Ramblas was our little detour into the grand food market, Mercat de la Boqueria, which reminded me of Seattle’s Pike Place Market and the one on Granville Island in Vancouver, B.C.  An overwhelming panorama of vibrant colors, prepared dishes, and raw food.

“[The Boqueria] is the hub and heart of both Barcelona’s gastronomy and its everyday eating.  Its site was originally occupied by the sixteenth-century convent of Sant Josep and the fourteenth-century one of Santa Maria.  Hang me for a gluttonous atheist if you will, but compared to the increase of human happiness afforded by this great market, the loss of a couple of convents is nothing. . . .

For any serious lover of food — which most Catalans aggressively are — there is no other place in the world quite like the Boqueria, that vast covered space crammed with stalls that display just about everything short of human flesh that could conceivably be eaten, from skinned rabbits (their moist eyes still peering reproachfully at the hardhearted shopper) to soft brown hills of newly shot but unplucked partridges, neatly tied fagots of expensive but irresistible angullos or jamon Serrano. . . . If there were a grocery, butcher, and fishmonger attached to the Garden of Eden, in which one could sample what terrestrial food tasted like before the fall of man, it would be something like the Boqueria.”
—  Robert Hughes, Barcelona the Great Enchantress

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Travels in Spain: Barcelona

November 12, 2015

“To travel across Spain and finally to reach Barcelona is like drinking a respectable red wine and finishing up with a bottle of champagne.”
— James Michner, Iberia

“It was a magnificent day; the skies were electric blue, and a crystal breeze carried the cool scent of autumn and the sea.  I will always prefer Barcelona in October.  It is when the spirit of the city seems to stroll most proudly through the streets.”
— Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind

View of Barcelona from the terrace at Parque Guell

View of Barcelona from the terrace at Parque Guell

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“The city is a sorceress . . . It gets under your skin and steals your soul without you knowing it.”
— Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind

Carol and I spent the final days of our Spain trip in Barcelona.  We traveled via bullet train from Seville to Barcelona, a 5-1/2 hour journey, remarkably smooth considering we were speeding along at up to 300 km/hour (over 180 mph)!  We passed lots more orange and olive trees on the journey.

So many motor scooters in Barcelona

So many motor scooters in Barcelona

Building with balconies, Barcelona

Building with balconies, Barcelona

Some of these balconies were glassed in.

Some of these balconies were glassed in.

Once in Barcelona, we resumed our habits of walking and eating tapas.  We noticed the prevalence of motor scooters as a popular mode of transportation here.  The citizens seemed industrious; there was construction going on, deliveries to the many shops and bars, lots of hustle and bustle.

Like all Spanish cities, the buildings sported lovely balconies.

“Ornate balconies, sometimes entirely boxed in with glass, hung like family jewels on the faces of the old buildings.”
— Miranda Franca, Don Quixote’s Delusions: Travels in Castilian Spain

Barcelona's Gothic Quarter

Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter

Barcelona’s old town, the Gothic Quarter, had its share of narrow streets.  But the city’s architecture also reflected the influence of Moderniste architects and designers, like Gaudi.

La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's bascilica

La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s bascilica

Casa Batllo, designed by Gaudi

Casa Batllo, designed by Gaudi

Reflection in scooter mirror

Reflection in scooter mirror

Lovely Moderniste lamp post, Barcelona

Lovely Moderniste lamp post, Barcelona

The terrace of Parque Guell

The terrace of Parque Guell

Parque Guell, terrace overlooking the city

Parque Guell, terrace overlooking the city

Parrot in Parque Guell

Parrot in Parque Guell

We were back being independent travelers in Spain.  Which meant that we were entirely dependent on maps.  Maybe we were tired, but we seemed to get lost repeatedly.  It didn’t help that the street signs pointed in directions at odds with the map!  Aah.  The joys of travel . . .

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